ATLANTA, Ga. – It’s a numbers game as we determine whether Edgerrin James finally merits inclusion into the NFL’s most hallowed neighborhood.
When the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee – I am one of 48 voting members – converges Saturday morning at the Georgia World Conference Center, it faces the difficult task of paring down the 15 modern-era finalists to five. Five.
James, the most prolific running back in Indianapolis Colts history and one of the most productive in NFL history, has reached the Final 15 for the third time in four years.
Is his wait over? Will he be part of the Class of 2019?
“Whatever happens, happens,’’ James told me. “Your body of work is right there.
“There’s nothing more I can do.’’
— Mike Chappell (@mchappell51) February 1, 2019
I have the responsibility of presenting James for consideration. Again. And one of the overriding issues I’ll pound home is: What more could he have done? What more should he have done?
When looking for other voices to supplement my research, I talked with Jon Gruden and Rex Ryan. Each had to deal with James’ multi-dimensional talents and withering game, and offered comments that resonated.
Gruden: “If you’re putting guys in the Hall of Fame at that position, how does he not get in there? He was durable, complete. Ederrin was there a long time and I guarantee you the statistics on the back of his football card are pretty damned good.’’
Ryan: “He’s not just another player. He was special. On of the most complete backs in the history of the league. He made it damn near impossible to play those guys. I dreaded going against him.
“He was the No. 1 weapon there. Obviously Peyton was Peyton, but Edgerrin was the No. 1 weapon you had to stop. It wasn’t Marvin Harrison. It wasn’t Reggie Wayne. Those guys are great receivers, don’t get me wrong. But everything they did was because of the running back. He wore your ass out.’’
In returning to our theme of the day, James’ raw numbers are difficult to argue against. A by-the-numbers look at why he deserves a bronze bust in Canton, Ohio:
- 4: Players who have rushed for 1,500 yards at least four times in a career. We’re taking about three first-ballot Hall of Famers – Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, Eric Dickerson – and James.
- 7: Players with 2,000 total yards from scrimmage at least three times, including James. The only players with four are first-ballot guys: Marshall Faulk, Erick Dickerson and Walter Payton.
- 3: Players who have led the NFL is rushing in each of their first two seasons. That would be Eric Dickerson and Earl Campbell, first-ballot inductees, and James.
- 7, again: Players who have won back-to-back rushing titles since the 1970 merger. It’s James and six first-ballot Hall of Famers.
- 4, again: Players to rank among the top-13 in career rushing yards and playoff rushing yards. It’s James, Emmitt Smith, Tony Dorsett and Thurman Thomas. Smith and Dorsett were first-ballot inductees. Thomas went in in year 2.
- 82.7: That’s James’ per-game rushing average over his 11-year, 148-game career. That’s a better per-game clip than Emmitt Smith, LaDainian Tomlinson, Earl Campbell, Tony Dorsett, Jerome Bettis, Marshall Faulk, Thurman Thomas, Franco Harris and several other Hall of Fame backs.
- 12,246: James’ career rushing yards, 13th in NFL history. Ten of the 12 ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame. The outliers are Frank Gore and Adrian Peterson, both still active.
- 15,610: James’ career total yards from scrimmage, 15th all-time. Eleven of the 14 ahead of him are in Canton. The other three: Gore, Larry Fitzgerald and Tiki Barber.
- 2000s: James and LaDainian Tomlinson are the first-team running backs on the NFL’s All-Decade Team of the 2000s.
“Look at all the facts,’’ James said. “I’m really confused because what are you being judged off of? I thought we were required to do three things (run, catch, block) and do them well. I’ll line up against anybody, and I mean anybody.
“You can go through every running back and you tell me who played at a higher level in every aspect? Show me the one that did every aspect better than me.’’
The slate of modern-era candidates for the Class of 2019, which is buttressed by two contributors (Gil Brandt and Pat Bowlen) and one senior nominee (Johnny Robinson). The latter three are voted on separate from the modern-era candidates. Again, only five modern-era individuals make the cut.
- Edgerrin James, running back
- Ed Reed, safety
- Tony Gonzalez, tight end
- Champ Bailey, cornerback
- Ty Law, cornerback
- Steve Hutchinson, guard
- Isaac Bruce, wide receiver
- Richard Seymour, defensive lineman
- Tony Boselli, offensive tackle
- Don Coryell, coach
- Tom Flores, coach
- Alan Faneca, guard
- John Lynch, safety
- Kevin Mawae, guard/center
- Steve Atwater, safety